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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
High Oleic Non-GMO Soybean Oil Could be a Boon for Farmers

Photo: United Soybean Board

By Carol Brown

For more than a decade, those working in the food industry have prioritized finding a replacement for trans fat in cooking and processing that doesn’t alter flavor significantly nor diminish cooking methods. Scientists have found that high oleic soybean oil can step into this role.

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed that partially hydrogenated oils – the main source of trans fat – was unsafe and banned its use in food products by 2018. Trans fat was in many processed foods, and restaurants used oils high in trans fat for frying and baking. With the discontinuation of this crucial ingredient, substitutions needed to be found.

“We’ve noticed a change in the food industry in regard to high oleic soybean oil,” says Dave Miller, food business vice president at Clutch Performance, a food and agriculture marketing firm in Minneapolis, Minn. “We used to have to explain what high oleic oil was and how it was solving the trans fat issues. Fast forward to today and there is a lot of awareness of the benefits of high oleic soy oil.”

With the increased usage of high oleic soybean oil by the food industry, more growers of this specialized soybean are being sought. Brushvale Seed, Breckenridge, Minn., has been working for several decades with farmers in the Red River Valley area to grow non-GMO soybeans, and recently the company added high oleic non-GMO soybeans to its offerings. Through a project supported by the United Soybean Board, Brushvale Seed partnered with Clutch Performance to recruit growers for production of these specific soybeans.

“There is demand for high oleic soybean oil in the food industry,” Miller says. “As volume increases, it’s becoming more and more cost-competitive for food manufacturers and restauranteurs to use. For Brushvale Seed, it was a new opportunity to add varieties in their product line.”

High oleic soybean oil origins

In 2000, soybean breeders at the University of Missouri and USDA scientists found a high oleic trait in soybeans. As time and soybean breeding continued, they found that high oleic soybean oil could potentially become a replacement for partially hydrogenated oils. The high oleic soybean they developed is trademarked as SOYLEIC®. Its oil has several benefits for food processors, the restaurant industry, and the consumer. It is low in saturated fat, it can be used at high temperatures, and carries a longer shelf life than traditional vegetable oil.

Brushvale Seed has been producing identity preserved food grade crops including non-GMO soybeans for more than 35 years. Travis Meyer, head of procurement at Brushvale Seed, saw high oleic soybeans as another opportunity for growers to improve their profit margins.

“Farmers can capture the margin as they get higher premiums at the sale of these specialty beans,” Meyer says. “Most of our non-GMO products are shipped overseas, but the high oleic soybean market is one we can open up. The soybean combination of high oleic and non-GMO is considered a premium product for both our domestic and overseas markets.”

Many of Brushvale Seed’s clients were located near their facilities in northwestern Minnesota and this project helped them expand their growing area and seek out new non-GMO soybean growers.

“When we add specialty soybeans to the conversation, such as high oleic non-GMO, farmers will drive their crop farther because the premium allows or it,” says Meyer. “We could expand markets father now.”

Clutch created materials for Brushvale Seed to use in grower recruitment at trade shows and state soybean meetings. They also conducted a direct mail campaign, targeting farmers in South Dakota, North Dakota and southern Minnesota, as well as those who had previously or were already growing non-GMO soybeans.

“Targeting these growers accelerated Brushvale Seed’s commercialization of the non-GMO high oleic soybeans,” says Miller. “Growing these soybeans would have to be treated like any other identity-preserved bean and we tried to prioritize those who would be familiar with those requirements.”

Growing identity-preserved and specialty crops takes management practices somewhat different than standard crops. Farmers need to accommodate restrictions in herbicide and nutrient application. They need to have dedicated bins to keep the crops separate and they need a processor that can accept these specialty crops. Brushvale Seed works with growers from planting to harvest to ensure the soybeans are handled properly.

“The campaign to increase growers of high oleic non-GMO soybeans was a success,” says Meyer. “This year, we now have growers from as far as 150 miles away and we’ve increased acres by 10 percent.”

By adding more of these soybeans for use in the food industry, it can improve farmer profitability as well as maintain food product expectations in flavor and costs for the consumer.

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.